Gostomel, Ukraine (CNN) — Its fuselage is a charred and twisted gaping hole. Its gigantic wings crashed to the ground, one of the engines burned out and failed.
The huge plume of tires on which the plane sits is still visible, as is the tattered nose cone proudly bearing the Ukrainian blue and yellow stripes and the official designation “225”.
But it is clear that the world’s largest commercial aircraft An-225 will never fly again.
The full extent of the damage to the aircraft, dubbed “Mriya” or “dream” in Ukrainian, was seen by CNN journalists after the withdrawal of Russian troops last week from the Gostomel airfield near Kiev, which was one of the first strategic targets of the invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine.
The jet lay crumpled and broken under the collapsed archway of the aircraft hangar where it waited for service during the invasion.
The wreckage of the war is strewn around it – the airfield is littered with destroyed Russian equipment, including trucks, tanks, armored personnel carriers and expended ammunition.
The destruction of the An-225 was a symbolic loss at the beginning of the conflict. The plane, originally built to support the Soviet space shuttle program in the 1980s, was a symbol of Ukraine’s pride.
It also shocked the aviation world. The aircraft became famous as a marvel of modern aeronautical engineering, regularly drawing crowds both at airshows where it was a star and during its day-to-day cargo missions around the world.
An Antonov An-225 Mriya aircraft in service in 2020.
Ronnie Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images
Immediately after the news of his death, the Ukrainian authorities promised to restore the aircraft, saying that Russia would be forced to pay $3 billion in reconstruction costs.
“Russia may have destroyed our Mriya. But they can never destroy our dream of a strong, free and democratic European state. We will win!” – then the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmitry Kuleba wrote on Twitter.
Russian troops began to dig in at Gostomel shortly after the airfield was captured in late February. After weeks of heavy fighting last Thursday, satellite imagery showed that Russian troops had suddenly disappeared.
Previous satellite imagery showed that the Russians had built protective earthen ramparts around military equipment and artillery positions. Now only the berms remain.
Ukrainian forces have since taken control of the site, claiming it was a major victory against the Russians. Over the weekend, CNN journalists visited the airfield with the National Police of Ukraine.
It is not clear what caused the destruction of the plane – whether it was deliberate sabotage or collateral damage from a military offensive to capture the airfield.
But, despite the dilapidation of the An-255, many military personnel photographed the aircraft, the symbolic status of the Mriya among Ukrainians has clearly not decreased.
Barry Nield and Paul P. Murphy of CNN contributed to this story.